Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 23, 2015 1:10 p.m.


DSCN2707Following significant public concern over the $47,000 cost for a 650 square foot deck to be added to the Marina Welcome Center, Commissioner Robin Lentz brought back the item to the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) for further discussion at the January 20, 2015 FBCC Regular Meeting.

Lentz said that she had visited the site with Marina Manager Joe Springer and waterfront advocate Lynn Williams to better understand the purpose of the deck. She said that while some have presented the need for the deck as a performance venue, her conversations with Springer and Williams helped her understand that the purpose of the deck is to provide boaters with a place to socialize. The goal, as she understood it, is to “repurpose the welcome center, to make it a more viable space for events.” Lentz said that she could envision it as a meeting place, or a space the city could rent out. Commissioner Tim Poynter reminded Lentz that there are no bathrooms in the facility. Lentz said she had spoken with the city manager about rebidding the deck project.

City Manager Joe Gerrity said that he had spoken with the David May of Brance Diversified, the successful bidder on the project, who has no problems if the city wants to change directions with the proposed deck. Gerrity said that one of the things he would like to do is to bring it back, have it engineered locally, have it reviewed and approved by the Historic District Council (HDC), and then rebid the project. “I don’t think we need to put the removable railings in,” he said. “We’ll put in standard wood railings. It will be a little bit different, but we’ll make sure it’s done to everybody’s satisfaction. Or we can ask David May (the successful bidder currently) about making changes.”

DSCN3943Lentz said she understood that the soil conditions made the project more expensive than “putting a deck on your house.” But Poynter said, “It would be good to have a plan to look at.” Lentz said that she felt the current plan was vague in areas such as deck coverage. Poynter said, “I hear two different things. I hear that the deck is for the boaters, and then I hear that it is for entertainment and needs to be covered, that the railings need to be removed but they do not need to be removed. What is this going to be?”

DSCN3944Gerrity said, “I consider this an enhancement to the marina, but just as everything else, if someone wants to hold a wedding down there with the sunset in the background, we can rent it to them.” Mayor Ed Boner said that his understanding was that with removable railings it could be used for performance and would fit in with the rest of the park plan.

Lentz said that she has spoken with people who see the deck in lieu of the performance space set aside in the waterfront master plan, and she does not see it as such. She sees it as an interim step on the way to building a more permanent structure. Vice Mayor Johnny Miller and Commissioner Pat Gass supported using the deck as a performance venue for the interim. Miller said he supported the vision presented previously by Springer, who explained how the deck would be used by boaters.

Lentz said she welcomed the discussion and was hoping to find a way to lower the cost somewhat, while realizing that the city would split the cost via grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND).

“In retrospect,” Gerrity said, “I wish we had designed it and walked it through the HDC the first time. But it sort of got lost in the shuffle or pushed along faster than maybe it should have been.”

Lentz recognized that the previous commission had approved it and did not want to talk it to death, but felt she had to do her “due diligence.” Gerrity said, “I think we have asked the good folks at FIND to help us pay for [the deck], and we have to follow through with our commitment, but we can try to make it a bit simpler.”

Mayor Ed Boner and City Manager Joe Gerrity
Mayor Ed Boner and City Manager Joe Gerrity

Boner said that he would like to have more than one bid. Poynter said that with a plan, it would be easier for potential bidders to understand the job.

Lynn Williams urges commissioners to proceed with project.
Lynn Williams urges commissioners to proceed with project.

Lynn Williams, the local FIND Commissioner, spoke to the commissioners and provided background on how the project came about following 2 years of discussion with Joe Springer about improving the marina experience for boaters. He said that the item had come before the previous commission four times before the decision was made to proceed. Williams disputed that it was a $50,000 deck. He said that the RFP had called for a bid bond and a performance bond, neither of which is required on projects costing less than $100K. If the city were to subtract that cost, along with an estimated $10K for awnings, and understand that the city’s cost share is 50 percent, the actual cost of the deck for the city would be around $12,000. That cost includes steel reinforced concrete pilings and other steel throughout the structure for a structure built in the coastal high hazard zone. That cost includes engineering and moving the project through the city’s permitting process. Williams said that he did not believe that rebidding the project would cost any less after factoring in staff time required to create and evaluate a new bid package. “I don’t think we’ll save anything on that $12,000, so I hope we’ll go ahead right now.”

DSCN3945Commissioner Gass said that Williams’ plan made good sense to her. “If we can remove the parts that aren’t required, and if [the contractor] is going to walk it through the permitting process, I make a motion to go ahead with what we’ve got.” Miller said that he seconded the motion, fearing that the discussion would revert into another situation of “kicking the can down the road.” Lentz clarified that the plan would be “slimmed down.” Boner requested clarification on the purpose of the deck. Gerrity said, “In my vision, it does not have a dual purpose; it is an enhancement to the marina and the welcome center. If you want to put a band up there, and somebody wants to play, then they can play. This is something the boaters are going to use, the public can use.”

After some added discussion reaffirming removal of bonding requirements and the removable railings, commissioners voted 4-1 to approve moving forward with the modifications. Poynter voted against the motion.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_27091)
7 years ago

No Bathrooms in a public facility ? We want to encourage visitors and locals to utilize our welcome center at the Marina and there are no bathrooms. What are the folks going to do ? Perhaps someone from utilities dept. can dig a “two holer” next to it on the parking lot. Are we putting the cart before the horse. I’ve always assumed that the Marina welcome center had a bathroom. Install a bathroom for gosh sakes.

Lynn Williams
Lynn Williams (@guest_27095)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Crounse

There are 4 bathrooms in the adjacent bathhouse, they are no more than 10 steps away for boaters, and about 20 steps for the general public bathroom. The closeness of these bathrooms is why none were included in the Welcome Center.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_27096)
7 years ago

In addition there are bathroom facilites just east of the Depot Building which serves as the general visitor welcome center. Good to see the project move forward and hopefully the City will remember the ability to remove the bonding requirements for small projects such as this in order to avoid excessive costs.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_27114)
7 years ago

Thank you gentlemen.

tony Crawford
tony Crawford (@guest_27161)
7 years ago

It would be my hope that at the end of the day we will have a better bidding system in place. The City should make an effort through an E mail program to contact all interested contractors on upcoming projects. Local contractors come into City Hall each day to pull permits. We should ask them if they are interested in City Projects and get them on such a list. This could be as simple as putting a sign on the counter. We should also offer them initial help with navigating the needed paperwork. We should also post all upcoming projects on a bulletin board near the permit counter. What would be the downside of becoming more ” contractor friendly “? The bidding system is meant to be just that— A system where contractors can bid ( compete ) for our business. This not only has the potential of saving us money, but will also help local business. Seems like a little work for a great reward.

Tom Dolan
Tom Dolan (@guest_27191)
7 years ago

As long as the city owns a marina, it will be dumping money into the continued capital expenses and expansion. This is why it would be a great idea to sell the marina and allow a private concern to make their own investments.

Margo Story
Margo Story (@guest_27211)
7 years ago

We do need an entertaining venue esp for Shrimp Fest, but it could also be used for showing films since we no longer have the cinema.Rent it out to pay for itself……Like Tony said,we need to have more contractors bidding on this esp locally. Let’s all help & get this project done…..

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben (@guest_27214)
7 years ago

Per Robin Lentz’s comments, why would taxpayer monies be used to provide a deck that per her “conversations with Springer and Williams helped her understand that the purpose of the deck is to provide boaters with a place to socialize”. I would hope that the city would be working to provide spaces (in the context of an overall master plan for the area) that are for everyone. Lentz is right to question spending money for something that has yet to be drafted.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_27221)
7 years ago

I think it will be interesting to see the layout of the deck. 650 sq ft is not a very large area to start with. I have been to the site and from what I have been told it is a wrap around design. I am not sure if that is accurate. There is also a question of “usable” deck space with respect to a wrap around design. Usable deck space is the actual sq footage of a deck that be “used” for tables, chairs, or areas large enough for events to be held. Non usable deck space is the square footage needed to get to the usable area such as walkways and stairs. Without a plan it is hard to guess what everyone has in mind and how well it will actually fit our needs.—Just a thought

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